Allen Helm Sr. was born in Tennessee, December 25, 1801 and
my mother, Elizabeth (McClure) Helm was born in North Caroling October
27, 1810. The first years of their married life were passed in
on a farm 12 miles from Lexington, the county seat, and five miles from
the small village of Greenton.
On this "old home place", all of my brothers and sisters and I were born. The house was a two-story structure, set in a clearing and surrounded by walnut and fruit trees. The kitchen -- as was the custom in the South, where negro slave-women did the cooking -- was located in a separate building, a short distance to the rear of the main dwelling house. All of the cooking was done on an immense fireplace.
I was born on April 9, 1846, and when we started for California -- April 1, 1856 -- I lacked eight days of being ten years old.
Four deaths in our immediate family delayed our start, and made it a sad one. My father had planned to come much sooner. My brothers, Benton and Henry, who had already gone to California, had written back such glowing accounts of this State that my father, and all of us, were eager to join them in the "new land". But after my father had arrangements made and had sold the old home, my brothers Riley and Edward were taken ill with typhoid and after lingering some time, passed away. It was then too late in the year to begin the long journey across the plains, so my father rented the Carlyle place, near the old home, and we stayed there until the Spring of 1856. In the meanwhile, before our departure, my brother Benton had come back from the West to be married, and my brother Riley's young wife, and my sister Jane's husband, had died.
On April 1, 1856, however, we finally started, and oh how excited all of us children were at the thought of the long ride, about which everyone had been talking.
In our party were my four brothers, four sisters, two nephews, my little orphaned niece, (Betsy Thompson) and sister-in-law Nancy (Barker) Helm. We went by a small town, called Chapel Hill, and our party stopped there and did some trading and bought some candy and gave it to us children, which was a great treat. In those days, we did not often get store candy to eat.
Our party had three wagons. One of these, a spring-wagon with a canvas cover, was drawn by a span of mules (Halup and Jallop) and was driven by my father. In it rode my mother, my little niece, Elizabeth, my youngest brother and sister, Charles and Nancy Margaret. The two other, larger covered wagons were drawn by oxen. My oldest brother, Benton, drove one of these, and a hired man (his wife's brother, Buck Barker) drove the other and also helped my two brothers, Wesley and Allen ( who rode horseback) to look after the loose stock which my father was bringing with him. In the wagon with my brother Benton and his wife were my sister Melinda and I. While in the one, driven by the hired man, rode my sisters Louisa and Jane, and Jane's two little boys, John and Jim Barker.
(Note: The above two ox teams got frightened and ran some little distance. Benton Helm thought it a lot of fun but his father was very angry he thought Benton was in some way the cause. Allen Helm was driving the other team as Buck Barker had left for Missouri return.)
This is the way in which all of our family rode during that long six-months journey.
Others had planned to travel along with us. Some of them were relatives of our family and others were just friends. They had all agreed to start at the same time, from wherever they had been living, and join my father on the road. So, as we traveled along, these families "fell in" with us. One of these was my mother's sister, Aunt Nancy Hopper, with her husband, Uncle Charles Hopper and their family. But, before them, the Foster family (George Foster, his mother, two unmarried sisters and a married one, Mrs. John Kesterson, (a niece of my mother, with her husband and little boy), and the Burton brothers -- Tom and Charles -- had joined us. The Burris family also traveled with us. In all, the train finally consisted of 30 wagons, while we were in the worst of the Indian country.
Each family had its own wagons, stock and provisions. But for protection against Indian attacks, they wanted to camp as near to one another at night as they could. Because the stock had to be fed, wherever grazing was to be had, made it impossible for such a large party to remain close together all the time.
Those that had loose cattle with them, had to stand guard at night, and be on the watch all day, to keep the Indians from driving off their herd. The whole train had almost to creep along. Wherever there was good grass, short stops would be made to let our stock feed. And, in desert regions, we had to travel by night on account of the heat. Tom Burton, who had been appointed captain, always rode ahead of the party and pitched out the camping place for us.
(Note: Benton's wife, Nancy, rode side saddle on a fancy mare named puss the entire distance along with others and helped drive loose stock. A cow bell on one of the milk cows is now in possession of Clyde B. Czerny, another one in possession of Albert Helm . A good average of Ox team traveling was from 9 to 12 miles in a long day.)
At first, we didn't see any Indians. But it wasn't long before our troubles began. And all of them weren't Indian troubles. The stock required constant attention. One time, the loose cattle got frightened and stampeded. All the men got busy and tried to keep them back from the wagons. It couldn't be done, however, and as they went running past us, the oxen, drawing the two schooners, became frightened also and began to run away.
I was riding in the wagon with my sister Jane and her two little children at the time. (We children used to change about from one wagon to the other, whenever we could-- just for the fun of it.) I don't know how long the stampede lasted. Only a few minutes, though, I guess. But the big wagon shook and jolted us as we went pell-mell over the rough ground. My brother couldn't stop the oxen any more than he could turn them from the direction that they were headed. But luckily for us, one of the animals-- named "Old Broad" -- finally stumbled and fell. His body was dragged a little ways.
Then, one wheel passed over him, and he was caught between the wheels. This and his weight stopped his team-mate -- and just in time!! If we had gone 10 steps farther in that direction, we would all have been killed. It took the men quite a Chile to get "Old Broad" out from between the wheels and yoked up again, so that we could go on. Another time, my youngest sister, Nancy Margaret, fell out of the wagon, and one of the heavy wheels passed over her. She was so badly injured she couldn't walk for a long time and all the rest of her life she was troubled by the injury to her hip.
There were lots of buffalo on the plains then too. Often we sighted bid herds of them. And one time we saw a large bunch of them, not so very far from where we were camped. They began to look as if they were headed toward us. So, our captain got on his horse and went to turn them another direction for they said that whenever the leader of the buffaloes started, he hunched his head down and never looked up to see where he was going or what was ahead of him, and that the whole herd would follow him that way and run over anything that happened to be in their path. So, out captain rode to where they could see him. As soon as they caught sight of him, they turned and went away in the opposite direction.
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